Reusse: Don't be fooled by Wild's finish

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2012 - 8:08 AM

Victories after its playoff fate was decided can't hide the fact that the team's offense remained nonexistent.

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The Wild brought in Devin Setoguchi (10) for more scoring punch, but he only had 19 goals through 68 games.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Gene Mauch resigned as Twins manager on Aug. 24, 1980. The team was 54-71 at the time. Mauch, 54, was nearing the end of his fifth season in Minnesota and saw it as a dead-end situation.

Johnny Goryl, the third base coach, was named interim manager. The Twins went 23-13 with Goryl and moved from sixth to third place in the seven-team American League West. Included was a 12-game winning streak from Sept. 19 through Oct. 3.

Goryl, 46, was named as full-time manager and the Twins talked optimistically of building off the strong finish.

There's nothing more meaningless in professional team sports than winning some games late in a lost season, and the Twins proved that quickly in 1981.

They started 11-25 and Goryl was fired, replaced by his third base coach, Billy (Slick) Gardner. That was the season split into two parts, with the Twins finishing 17-39 and last in the first "half,'' and 24-29 and fourth in the second.

The moral of this flashback: Any interested party -- owner, coaches, players, fans or media -- embracing optimism based on this brief, late-season sign of life from the Wild is mining fool's gold.

The 2011-12 Wild rates among the major flops in the 45 years that the Twin Cities has been a full-service pro sports market. I date that to the debut of the North Stars in 1967; we've been in at least three of the four major leagues since then.

The Wild had won 20 of 30 games through Dec. 10. It was leading the NHL with 43 points. One thing evident since the NHL added three-point games to the mix in 2005: With that free point available for losing in 4-on-4 overtime or a shootout, it is more difficult to make up a deficit in the NHL playoff race than in any other major sport.

The Skating W's beat the odds by going in the tank for 3 1/2 months. They were buried in the playoff race earlier than in 2010-11, a 39-win, 86-point season that got Todd Richards fired immediately after it was over.

That had to be this season's low point, by the way, a pair of losses on Feb. 7 and 11 to Columbus, with Richards serving as the interim coach for the hapless Blue Jackets.

This was astounding ineptitude:

Starting Dec. 13 and through March 27, the Wild won 11 of 46 games. It was 4-7 in shootouts and overtime, meaning the W's had a record of 7-28 in regulation over a period of 14 weeks.

The Wild had four shootout/overtime victories in the previous five games heading into Saturday night's season finale. Phoenix cruised to a 4-1 victory that left the Wild with 35 wins and 81 points.

The St. Paul lads also finished with seven regulation victories in their final 52 games.

Is it possible to get your head around that? Fifty-two games, four months of hockey, and the team that once led the NHL in points managed to win seven times without the gimmicks of a shootout or 4-on-4 overtime.

In Saturday's Star Tribune, we also learned from hockey writer Michael Russo that the Wild was set to become the lowest-scoring team in the NHL since the 2004-05 lockout. The significance of that is that the NHL, in addition to adding shootouts, declared that it would open up the game with a crackdown on interference and other changes.

The Wild wound up with 166 actual goals (not counting goals added for shootout wins). Dang ... Jacques Lemaire's expansion team in 2000-01 rarely came out of the trap and it had 168 goals.

Basically, this collection has averaged two goals per game with the in-your-face pressure promised by coach Mike Yeo.

The Wild finished first in the Northwest Division in 2008, then was upset in six games by Colorado in the first round. The W's haven't been in the 16-team tournament since -- a distinction shared with Dallas, Edmonton, Toronto, the New York Islanders and Winnipeg (previously Atlanta).

What the Wild fans who still want to believe will say is that there's a wave of young talent on the doorstep. Fair enough, but if you run into anyone from Edmonton, you might ask how that's worked out for the Oilers.

Every summer, we hear about the Oilers adding another "unbelievable'' talent in the draft, and every winter we see them buried deep in the standings ... even deeper than the punchless crew in St. Paul.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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